24 APRIL 1880, Page 20


-THE successful work of the world seems to get smaller and smaller in scale. As the species that used to build the Pyra- mids now spends most of its spare energy in running up rows of lath-and-plaster houses, so the genius which used to aim at the Elizabethan drama now contents itself with comediettas in one scene, with glimpses of two or at most three characters. However, there is no denying that a brilliant picture, though seen no more fully than you see the group in the slide of a magic-lanthorn, is better worth painting than the highest and most ambitious group which fails of its effect. No man can really enjoy Dryden's plays, and it is hard wading through Ben Jouson's ; but any one who will take up this very unpretending little volume of Little Comedies, though he will be struck, first, by the extreme slightness of the work, will be struck next, by the singular evenness and excellence of the execution. No one can read this lively little book without recognising that though it is only literary filigree, it is literary filigree executed by a very skilful and delicate hand. Of the six little comediettas here given, five, at least, .are not only good in workmanship,—all six are that,—but sufficiently distinct in execution to leave a lively impression of the whole on the mind. The exception is " Mabel's Holyday," where Mr. Sturgis has either shrunk from indicating clearly what he wished to indicate of his weary actress's mind, or has been careless in working out his purpose. In all the other pieces, though the idea of the scene is always slight, and some- times extremely common-place, the monologue or dialogue is so Bright, that the reader cannot but take pleasure in it. Take, for instance, the lively little piece called " Half-way to Arcady," • Little Comedies. By Sultan Sturgis. London : William Blackwood and Sons.

the best of all of them in many respects, though something between an operetta and a comedietta. The idea is to represent a young girl coming out of the conventional Arcadia of the poets, of which she is quite sick, to find the real world of fashionable life in Paris. Half-way she meets a poet coming out of the real world of fashionable life in Paris in search of the rural ideal of the poets, and each, contented with this partial approximation towards the end in view,—' better contented, perhaps, with the compromise than either would have been with the ideal sought after,—takes up with the other ; and they establish themselves, the one half-way to the world, the other half-way to Arcadia, in a union which, if not quite one of perfect bliss, is much happier for the Arcadian lass than her vapid contentment, and much more resting (if a good deal slower) for the weary poet than his world of exhausted enjoyments. There is nothing very great, our readers will per- • ceive, in the mere conception; but in the working-out, as they will also see, there is a liveliness and brightness of touch that leave a charming literary effect in the memory :-

He.—You come from Arcady ?

She.— Of course, my lord.

He.—Poor child! and you have left the land adored

By sheep and poets. Say, what cruel fate Has sent you thence to wander desolate In this cramped world of licence, law, and lie ?

She.—What sent me No one sent me, sir, but I

Was grown so weary of the silly sheep And silly shepherds—oh, they peer and peep,

And sing their songs all to one lazy tune

Of ribbons and of roses, and warm June, And bells are always tinkling, breezes sighing For nothing, and the leaves so long a-dying- And so, sir, I was tired and ran away.

He.—Where do you go ?

She.— To Paris, and to day, To life, to life!—Oh, pardon me, fair sir, I talk too much.

lie.— I like those lips astir With funny little fancies, rosebud lips,

A rose of dew ; and now a sunbeam slips .

Through frolic beech-leaves for a kiss, I ween ; Now the lips part, and so he slips between. You sit so meek and pretty in the shade, Were I not tired of women, I'm afraid That I should learn of sunbeams—nay, don't fear me, I've seen so many pretty women near me.

Fold little hands, turn great grave eyes on mine, And I will teach you wisdom,—how they shine, Those merry eyes ! and are they blue or brown ?

'Tis good to live afar from noisy town, To live a simple life in woodland wild, Child in a child's world, evermore a child ; 'Tis good to cut the reed and sound the lay, To lead the sheep, and watch the lambkins play;- She.—Oh, sir, I've watched the lambkins, and the game Our lambkins play is every day the same ; I'm weary of their dance.

He.— The lark at morn

Leaps, a live song, above the yellow corn ; The hours go by to music ; when the sun Slopes to the west, their day-long pleasures done, The simple souls betake themselves to rest= Blest race indeed if they but knew how blest.

She.—Ah, sir, but what are days and days like these To Paris hours and gaslight in the trees—

A glare, a maze, a murmur ?

He.—Listen, child !

In that old shell of Paris was I styled Prince of misrule, mirth, madness, mockery, No lord of laughter half so loud as I; No cup so deep as mine, no heart so gay.

Do I look very happy ?

She.— Dare I say ?

Dare I speak out my thought ? Fair sir, your face Has in it something that did never grace Our most sweet-smiling shepherd : I can guess That it is what we long for—weariness.

There's no life to grow weary of at home.

He.—Each year the apple-orchards break to foam

Of sun-tipped blossom, every leaf is new On every tree, and all the sky is blue.

Slowly the fresh green turns to deep rich shade, Slowly gnarled boughs with fruit are overweighed, Swell the fair clusters on the swinging vine, The year grows old in beauty. Maiden Mine, No charms in dusty Paris will you see One-half so sweet as your simplicity.

She.—My poor simplicity ! My silliness !

I pray you do not mock me, sir ; distress Makes my voice fail ; indeed I don't know why, But I am very silly : if I cry You'll laugh again, and I shall cry the more.

I pray you do not mock me.

He.— Not for store Of moments dear as this, of sweet replies, Of April dawning in those lips and eyes !

I mock you not. I.smile because 'tis sweet To see the fretted sunlight at our feet. I smile, because your eyes are large and round ; I smile to think I sit on grassy mound, And prattle with a girl ; while far away The huddled crowd of Paris wear the day Uneasy—flitting on from sport to sport, Stabbing with jest, and winging quick retort, Playing and playing, lest they see pass by Young Pleasure's drear-eyed mate, Satiety. Fever of life, 0 absinthe, cigarette, 0 endless theatre where in order set A dull-eyed people all the long night through Sit without hope of seeing something new ! O dullness smartly uttered ! paradox ; O hired applause, bought flowers from the box ! 0 acres of stretched canvas, where with skill

The painter shows new forms of every ill—

Historic bloodshed, new-distorted dress, And unimagined, undraped ugliness!

O pleasure without laughter, strange disease Of mad amusements that can never please! 0 storm and stress of gold, and fuss, and feather !

0 hollow Paris, you and I together Have run the weary round of mirth.—But now ! Now the quick air comes wooing ; on the bough A squirrel stops to listen ; one small bird Is talkative, and naught beside is heard,

Save murmur of wise bees amid the bloom;

While far away the dim musk-scented room Is shut from sunlight and the ear is full Of clatter, and the restless eye grows dull.

0 pretty girl of laughter all compact, Of little fancy, and of simple fact, Maid o' the milking, queen of holiday, My brier-rose from the close hedge astray, My heart can beat again, my eyes can see; I sought Arcadia, and she came to me.

Here will we rest.

She.— But, sir, is Paris near ? He.—Take me, take Paris; I have Paris here, Here in my shrivelled heart, my weary face. Here in my tailor's artificial grace,

In scorn of joys which can no more delay me, In arrogance which bids you thus obey me. I am all Paris, spoiled child of the sun, And I am at your feet, my little one."

That is full of crisp, and lively, and poetic verse; and though for the most part these comediettas are in prose, they are in the prose of a mind accustomed to poetry, and to the exercise of the fancy. Indeed, the snatches of song in this tiny volume are all of them musical, and seem to show that Mr. Julian Sturgis could do much more than he here attempts. In these comediettas there is hardly room for more than good execution. The aim is so very far from high, that the only way in which the author can show his ability is the way in which he does show it, by proving that he can so diversify threadbare themes as to fill them with life and interest. Why should he not attempt something more than this, and not only amuse us with the skill with which he treats a slight thread of emotion, but fascinate us by the vigour with which he combines many such threads in a single subject? As it is, the whole charm of the little book is like the charm of a kind of literary shot-silk. You have all sorts of variations on one theme, till you are struck with the ingenuity they display. You pass from one phase of a feeling to another closely similar phase, with a

swiftness and yet a vivacious sense of the reality of the change, that suggest a mobile as well as a poetic treatment of emotion by the author. Here and there you have a touch so full of genuine poetry,—for instance, that we have quoted,

" The lark at morn Leaps, a live song, above the yellow corn,"

that we feel sure Mr. Sturgis could be a poet, if he were to exchange the very modest aims of this little book for aims richer and higher. And his fancy is not merely delicate, it is creative.

In the last piece, called " Heather," Mr. Sturgis wants to con- trast the modern artistic craze for subdued colours, kinds digradia, half-lights, pallid joys, and sweet griefs, with the fuller lights and shadows, the rich joys and deep sorrows of the real world ; and his device for completing his contrast is very

happy. The lovers, who are discussing this notion of the superfine artistic school, that all the finer joys are softened by shadows of sadness, come suddenly upon a little tramp from Italy, sleeping in the blooming heather the sleep of health and weariness. And the sight of the little fellow gives a finish to the conflict between the artistic and the natural view, by sug- gesting to each of the lovers that side of the truth for which each has been contending:—

"Elf.—Hnsh ! Poor child, how sound he sleeps. jul.—A little tramp of Italy, and a jolly little fellow. Elf.—He has crept in here from off the hard road of life. Don't wake him, Julius.

Jul.—Not I. Do you think I would mar such slumber ? Look how evenly the breath stirs the torn shirt on his breast; and how easily ho lies, his knees a little bent, us if he would curl himself like some soft- coated animal warm in the heather. Did an eagle let him fall ?

Elf.—How beautiful is the soft olive face lying on the outstretched arm ! and look at the lashes—how long they are on the cheek ! Poor child ! The path before him must be rough for those little feet. Poor child, poor child !

Jul.—Not so poor neither. Is sleep like that worth nothing ? See how he smiles, and the humorous wrinkle between the eyebrows, and the warm blood in the cheek. It is a child's cheek, round and soft ; but the jaw is firm enough. Such a one moves well and cheerily among the chances of life. No fear for him. He was born in a happy hour.

Elf.—How beautiful he is, astray from a poet's Italy, fragrant of the wine-press, and eloquent of most delicate music!

Jul.—Yet should lie wake, that rustic bagpipe would be doubtless discordant. Sleep, little one, in good sweet Northern heather ; sleep, little Ampelus, out of the swinging vines. Sleep, vagrant poem—not Ampelus ; for now I bethink me, Elfrida, this is the very god of love.

Elf.—Poor little child of the South !

Jul.—Bad grandchild of the Southern sea—lovely and capricious grandam, with malice in her smiles. Wake him not or tremble. Elves of the wood a-many have confessed his power."

Everywhere in this exceedingly slight but charming little book we see the indications of so much rich and cultivated poetic feeling, that we can only wonder at the author's evident pleasure in slender themes. Let Mr. Sturgis try something of higher scope, and we believe that he might be able to produce something with the unmistakable mark of genius on the finished work.